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Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Newport Food Festival 2012 Launched

Bigger And Better, building on the strengths of 2011, and creating a community based event.

That was the message emerging from the launch event for the 2012 Newport Food Festival.

An early launch means that planning and involvement with a range of participants and organisations means that the actual festival 6th October is the day, will have a strong lead in and can develop into a major event in the food calendar. Last year it unfortunately clashed with the Cowbridge Food Festival but this year it will be a standalone date.

The actual launch event brought together chefs, producers, community groups, businesses and bloggers with the aim of setting out a plan for the festival.

The introduction from Sarah Dickins reminded us that whilst a rather fine meal had been laid in, hats off to Popadoms who provided it, there was no such thing as a free lunch and we would be filling in post-its with ideas and responses which would be co-ordinated into a planning strategy.

First a reflection on last year and a few statistics. Around 30,000 people attended of whom 6,000 came just for the festival and the others were in town for other reasons but joined in. £250,000 additional spend was generated in the 6 hours of the festival and the overwhelming majority of traders, commercial operator in town and most important of all the citizens of Newport wanted a second festival and an annual one at that.

This year would concentrate on the core area of town the Market Hall, streets around it and the Riverside for chef demos and workshops, but have a larger selection and range of stall holders and seek to involve even more local producers, suppliers and chefs. One participant suggested that all hotels and restaurants should be offered a stall but a chef pointed out that Saturday is the busiest night in catering so take-up could be low. Perhaps though there is a chance for a link to the festival with local restaurants offering a “Festival Menu” for the week before using ingredients from exhibitors?

One of the real strengths of last year was the involvement of young people in the Mini Chef and Teen Chef competitions and we heard from one of the Teen Chef winners about their day at Lucknam Park cooking with Hywel Jones in a Michelin Starred establishment which was part of the prize! Another real positive was the offering of training to unemployed people as servers, they served the Festival Supper, and several have found jobs in hospitality as a result. This needs to continue so that the community gets a real gain from the Festival.

Increased skills, marketability and employment must be a key issue for this, and any other, Food Festival. People bang on about the Olympic Legacy of 2012, but with festivals all over the UK there is a real opportunity for regeneration and economic development offered by the food industry.

But enough of the pontificating for now….

We had been offered a hot buffet at the event but it turned out to be so much more!

An initial glass of wine on entering gave us the chance to meet up with old friends and make new ones before we sat down at long tables for what turned out to be a three course meal.

Local award winning restaurant and takeaway Popadoms laid on a starter of mini popadoms with a yoghurt mint sauce, onion and tomato salad and a mango chutney on a serve yourself basis, large baskets of mini popadoms sat on the table with small bowls of the accompaniments and were appreciated by all who attended.

The main course showed some of the restaurant’s top dishes and we each collected a plate groaning under the  weight of Chicken Tikka Massala, Bombay Potatoes, Onion Bhaji, Vegetable Samosa, Pilau Rice and Green Salad. Again all cooked to a high standard though Mrs K found the Bombay Potato a little spicy!

As we ate we continued to discuss all things festival with Sarah Dickins plus roving mike touring the tables and eliciting points and reactions from diners, these being the basis of rapidly filling flip charts which recorded the ideas and suggestions that would be the basis if the strategy.

Finally a Mango Kulfi was served and I am prepared to bet that it was a staple on the Popadoms menu years before Masterchef caused a world Mango shortage. Good coffee ended the meal as the final comments were collated and the evening wound to an end.

But what of drinks I hear my reader (and you know who you are) cry. Well we were served with beers from Wales newest brewery!
Tiny Rebel have only been in existence for four weeks, setting up on Newport’s Maesglas Industrial Estate. Brad and Gareth are seeking to combine both retro and modern brewing and are developing a range of beers.

On offer last evening were Fubar , on draught, a hoppy beer with a distinct bitterness in the background and Orange Weisse, a prototype bottled beer, with a Coriander and Orange infusion. This was a great beer to accompany curry and it could replace the ubiquitous Cobra in discerning establishments, and it’s local!  (I brought one home with me for later consumption.

Other beers in production or development include Urban IPA, The Full Nelson a single hop beer, Chocoholic a Belgian infused speciality beer and one that definitely tickles my taste buds Smoked Oat Stout. Without a doubt a visit to the brewery is on the cards and I will be blogging about Tiny Rebel in the near future.

Overall a good launch, good to see early and positive involvement from all sectors of the foodiverse and some very positive signs emerging. Perhaps the most important of these was the unanimous agreement that a Newport Food Network would be a must. This would involve all sections of the community and provide an exchange for ideas, positive help for producers and providers and keep the Food Newport concept going for the 364 days a year when there isn’t a Food Festival.

It will be a one day event again in 2012, but building on strengths a weekend event cannot be too far ahead.

Many thanks to Chris Jones and the team behind the Food Festival for organising an informative and involving evening, if we all pull together Newport Food Festival will be an even bigger success this year than last!

That date for your diaries is Saturday October 6th and there will be the Friday Night Supper on 5th. See you all there!

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Thursday, 22 March 2012

Smashing Sausages

Just beside the Market Hall in Abergavenny (the main venue for the Abergavenny Food Festival), Market Street hosts Rawlings butchers where the Sausages are amazing! That’s not just me saying so, the sausages win awards in all the major trade shows and Taste Awards and have been crowned Welsh Champion Sausages. The shop is full of certificates, cups and Rosettes, whilst posters show the coverage that Rawlings have had on TV including a visit from the Hairy Bikers on their Food Tour of Great Britain.

Paul Bishop established the shop in 1976 and has gone from strength to strength, garnering a solid core of local shoppers and also providing some of the better catering companies with top quality sausages.

Some of this success is down to the craftsmanship which goes into each and every sausage and some due to the sourcing of really food meat with which to work. The Pork is all free range and it shows in the taste, Beef again is locally sourced, much of it travelling only 6 miles from farm to slab.

Though sausages are what makes Rawlings a destination butcher there is a terrific range of dry cured bacon which can be bought in slabs or as rashers. Unlike many butchers you are asked how you would like the rashers cut, not just thick or thin but machine or hand cut. I always opt for the hand cut, unless I am buying a slab to do myself, as you get a thicker rasher which truly represents the quality Pork used. The dry cured Gammon is also an award winner.

Of course in a real craft butcher shop you would expect even the less well known cuts to be used and Faggots are always available. These are subtle, there is a good balance between meaty and offaly tastes, you taste the liver but it is part of an overall mix not the dominant flavour. I like to cook them simply, diced onion, potato and carrot is sweated and then a good chicken stock added – chicken stock has an affinity with Pork- and the resultant sauce seasoned before chopped parsley is added.

The faggots re brought up to room temperature before being placed in a casserole and the stock added. Placed in an oven at 160c the faggots are cooked for 30-40 minutes and then served simply in a bowl with fresh crusty bread on the side to mop up the sauce at the end.

But back to the sausages.

It is easy to see why they are award winning. Plump and meaty (you only get 6 to the kilo!) the sausages cook perfectly, retaining a firm but yielding texture and with the kind of “snap” that only a good sausage can have.

A long slow fry brought them to perfection and they ate well.

Apart from the award winning “Old Fashioned”, a coarse cut sausage, several other varieties are made, all on site and all to a high standard. Traditional Farmhouse is a smoother sausage to a similar recipe whilst the Cumberland are made to a 180 year old recipe. Welsh tradition is reflected in the Lamb Apricot and Rosemary, a sausage that could be an alternative Sunday Lunch!, and the Pork and Leek. Lamb is also represented in both Mint and Moroccan varieties

Garlic and Herb Sausages and the Italian Connection are more continental blends whilst the Orleans Smokey combines pork, peppers garlic and chilli and a smokey flavour that might just come from smoked paprika.

Welsh Pride is reflected in three great sausages, Celtic Pride, the spicy Welsh Dragon and the Grand Slam Banger. This latter sausage formed part of my dinner on that historic day when Wales won their third Grand Slam.

It was also St Patrick’s Day and I had been sorely tempted to breakfast on the Beef and Guinness though I managed to resist that temptation, saving it for another day.

There’s also a range of game sausages including Venison and Red Wine and Herbs. Mixed Game, Red Wine and Herbs, Wild Boar and Apricot Cognac and several sausages based on Chicken and Duck.

I haven’t tried them all but I will be returning to Rawlings and will be trying more of these amazing sausages.

Another butcher who truly deserves to be seen as Local and Great.

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Friday, 16 March 2012

Pat Whelan, a great Irish Butcher

Darina Allen thinks that great butchers will replace great chefs as the stars of the foodiverse, and that butchery is undergoing a renaissance. If so the Michelangelo of Irish butchery is Pat Whelan in Clonmel.

Pat is a fifth generation butcher, the family firm is James Whelan Butchers,and much of his meat is raised on the family farm in Clonmel, slaughtered in their own abattoir and butchered by Pat and his highly experienced team. Meats that he doesn’t raise himself are all local as are the herbs and other products used in and available from the shop.

Aberdeen Angus and Hereford beef are mainstays with Lamb also being raised on the farm and sold in the shop. The meat is raised all grass fed, slaughtered and then dry aged by traditional methods to produce some of the finest meat that I have ever tasted. No matter how good the base product is, the processing can lead to it being (excuse the pun) butchered. It is the skill of Pat and his team that really brings out the best in the meat and makes it so desirable.

Almost overwhelmed by the choice available in the shop I had to think long and hard before purchase as we had only one plug in coolbox with us and I could have filled it many times over.

One thing was an absolute MUST for me the Wagyu Beef. Wagyu is an up and coming meat on both sides of the Irish Sea and one mouthful is enough to convince you of the added value of this premium beef. Space constraints meant that I could only buy the burgers but they were the ultimate taste sensation, even better than the Longhorn burgers served by Stephen Terry. I cooked them on the grill pan back at home and earned an “Amazing” from Mrs. K who usually gives a “Yum!” as her ultimate accolade.

There is a huge range available in the shop which has a long counter to the left and shelving to the right before a L turn takes you to further delights and the butchers are visible working in a separate room. “20 years ago the whole thrust was making the shop like a supermarket” said Pat, “Now with the new shop in Monkstown we want to bring the butchery back into the middle of the shop, show what we do. We’re already planning the changes here to put the focus on what we do as well as what we sell.”

The new shop was opened in the Avoca Foodmarket in Monkstown near Dunleary ( handy for rapid cross channel shopping trips from Holyhead)  and features three Maple butcher blocks where customers can watch the team in action.

I also purchased a terrific Chicken, again locally sourced, and a fillet of Ham to accompany it in a roast, and later as a chicken and ham pie.

Wonderful Inch House Black and White Puddings completed the purchases but as I said I was limited in the amount of space in the coolbox. The puddings served with organic free range eggs and home-made Soda Bread gave an excellent breakfast after an overnight ferry!

Stunning though the range and quality of meats were the really impressive thing about James Whelan Butchers was the atmosphere. Butchers spoke to customers, advising on cuts and cooking, enquiring how the last meal worked out and making suggestions but not trying the upsell or hard sell. This was a community butchers at its best and a model that many could copy.

Pat himself was on the checkout when I visited, and as well as sparing me a lot of time he spoke with every customer and obviously knew them well, you don’t get that in a supermarket!

I referred to Pat as the Michelangelo of the new butchery renaissance and this was not mere hyperbole, Pat really is a renaissance man.

As well as being a farmer/butcher Pat is a huge advocate of local seasonal artisan food and a tireless campaigner for Tipperary producers he is Chairman of Tipperary Producers. Every year he organizes a Long Table Dinner showcasing the best of local produce and last year had Rachel Allen to demonstrate recipes at a Food extravaganza.

His website   features the product available and also has valuable resources such as cooking times, storage and a whole raft of videos covering everything from sharpening knives to boning chicken.

The new butcher blocks in Monkstown will enable an expansion of the butchery courses that are on offer and will be led by experienced butchers, the same facility is available in Clonmel.

Pat also writes a blog –find it through the website  –  based on his regular newspaper column, as does one of the team of butchers Liam Bourke who blogs at The Tipperary Butcher another brilliant series of food related posts.

Finally Pat wrote a marvelous book An Irish Butcher Shop with some 90 recipes for Beef, Lamb, Pork, Poultry and Game with very helpful sections on cooking techniques, temperature charts and virtually everything you need to know about cooking meat. I use it a lot for inspiration and instruction.

I will certainly be back in Clonmel to meet up with this giant of butchery, not least because Pat offered me a trip around the farm to see the source of the meat, but to buy some more of the finest that Tipperary (and indeed Ireland) has to offer.

Pat, his shops and his product are Local and Great.

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Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Oxtail - a Rant, a Recipe and a Rave Review

The BBC recently ran a story on Forgotten Foods, the main thrust of this was Black Pudding - though Oxtail would fit in equally well. Indeed in many cases Oxtail is best forgotten. Talking recently to someone who is a food festival regular and has eaten at some of our finest dining establishments she said “I’ve never had Oxtail except soup and it was horrible” She was almost certainly right about the horrible but that is much more to do with the powdered tomato and onion mix used to make the soup than the Oxtail itself.

There may well be another reason for Oxtail being forgotten – it is seen as food for the poor. If you can’t afford ‘proper’ beef you buy Oxtail, indeed the average diagram of Cuts of Beef ignores it entirely.

Most butchers do not stock Oxtail and those that do seem to value it at around the same price as Fillet Steak! How different in Ireland where it is widely available and is also cheap! The best bet in the UK is to look for Oxtail in Farmers Markets where some of our serious ‘nose to tail’ producers not only have it but at a very reasonable price.

Ok maybe some of the declining popularity of Oxtail is the fact that it takes time to bring to its full rich melting potential, but as with baking bread, there are short periods of activity followed by time taking its course.

I bought my Oxtail from Cig Lodor, a Pembrokeshire Farm at the Riverside Farmers Market in Cardiff and got the entire tail for a mere £3.50. OK you get some bone and fat in that but the meat is great value!

First the individual segments were seared to get a good browning going and to start to melt the bone marrow that will add so much richness to the finished dish and then about a litre of home-made Beef Stock was added. I made mine from the bones of a superb Rib Roast that I had on New Year’s Eve and froze. Add a little water if needed to ensure that the bones are covered them bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer.

I usually allow around three to four hours for the simmer then remove the tail pieces, take the fat off and ease the meat from the bones. On the larger sections at the top of the tail you should get pieces about the size of your thumb and about four from each bone. Towards the tip these will be much smaller but equally tasty and may come off as thin shreds. Return the meat to the stock and bring back to the simmer for 10 minutes or so before cooling and placing in the fridge overnight.

As the Oxtail rests it will soften further and both absorb and add to the stock.

The following day take the beef and stick which will have set into a solid block and can be removed and brought back to room temperature whilst the other ingredients are prepared.

Onions, I use both Red and white, are chopped into rough eigths you want reasonable chunks and not too fine a dice. Celery is cut into thin slices and sweated off with the onion in a little butter and seasoned with freshly ground pepper. After about 10 minutes add a good glug of Red Wine (Stout would be a good alternative) and an equal amount if Port. Red wine sauces always benefit from the sweetness of Port and I suspect that the Brandy used to fortify the Port helps too. A couple of fresh Bay Leaves from the garden and several halved Mushrooms completed the mix.

Once this has reduced by ¾ Add a couple of sliced carrots.

Skim the fat off the top of the Oxtail and stock, it should have set pretty firmly to make it easy, and add the meat and stock to the pan. Bring back to the boil and then reduce to a simmer and cook for an hour or so.

Now for the bit that adds real depth of flavour and smoothness to the sauce.

I add Boudin Noir. Black Pudding would do, but certainly in the UK, it tends to add either pinhead oats or large pieces of fat neither of which enhance the overall taste and texture. Boudin Noir, on the other hand, merely enhances the sauce and produces a velvety finish and a subtle herby spiciness. Native Breeds a charcuterie producer from Lydney in Gloucestershire make an epic Boudin and sell through Farmers Markets so I got some at Undy Farmers Market. This was crumbled in about half an hour before I served the dish and worked its magic in that time. Once added I tasted and added a little Halen Mon Smoked Sea Salt to balance the sweetness of the sauce and to introduce a slight smokiness.

Finally with 20 minutes to go I slipped a few herbed dumplings into the pan and let them swell and develop.

Served simply in a bowl and with crusty home baked breads to soak up the extra sauce the meal earned rave reviews from Mrs K who declared it both Scrumptious and Unctuous.

Simple food done well, and Local and Great.

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Thursday, 8 March 2012

Knockalara A Special Sheep Cheese

Waterford has a tiny market, perhaps eight stalls and mainly devoted it would seem to Cupcakes and crepes, though I was pleased to spot a real baker, an organic vegetable stall and best of all Knockalara Farmhouse Cheese!

Agnes and Wolfgang Schliebitz together with their three daughters specialise In Sheep cheese at their Cappoquin farm in West Waterford and have developed an award winning range. They started cheese making in 1990 and twenty years of experience really shows in their cheeses all made from their own Friesland sheep.

Agnes was running the stall and, in addition to her own product, had some of my favourites from the Fermoy Natural Cheese Company so I snapped up Cais Dubh, St Gall and St Brigid, three cheeses with different properties. The Cais Dubh with its black rind –hence the name- is a robust tangy hard cheese, St Gall is a great cooking cheese and adds depth to any dish made with it whilst St Brigid is a semi hard cheese with a rich creamy taste well worth a place on any cheese board and amazing in a tart with Dill and fresh cream!

But it was the Knockalara that I really wanted to buy.

The most recent that I had came from the Great British Cheese Festival in Cardiff last September and I am certain that Agnes will have cheeses there again this year. Coming just a week after the Abergavenny Food Festival (15th and 22nd September respectively) these brilliant food events could top and tail a week in Wales for my Irish readers and allow time to really taste the great produce that we have here.

But I digress, I was in Waterford and talking to Agnes Schliebitz about her award winning Sheep Cheese.

Made only with traditional methods, the cheeses are hand-made using vegetarian rennet and top quality pasteurised milk, and does not contain any artificial ingredients, flavours or preservatives and are absolutely GM free.

Agnes makes a sheep cheese with Italian herbs - ideal for using in a salad, a few leaves, scallions, heritage tomatoes fresh herbs a good lemony dressing and cubed cheese with a little drizzle of extra virgin and there you have it.

Similarly the cheese in Olive Oil is a brilliant salad cheese, crumble it over a green salad but also eats well on a sandwich, livens up a pizza or focaccia bread and provides a sharpness to a well-balanced cheese board.

They may be small but their cheese is up with the best.

Sadly Knockalara do not have a website. The entry in the Irish Cheesemakers Association directory explains why “Travel into the heart of West Waterford, along winding country roads and over stone bridges, turn left at an old thatched cottage, through lush green fields and there you will find the Knockalara Cheese company”.

As Agnes said we are not only in a very rural setting, but at the end of the phone line and broadband does not stretch that far so we have neither the web nor email.

They can however be contacted at Knockalara Farmhouse Cheese, Knockalara,
Cappoquin, Co. Waterford or by phone at 024 96326

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